HOMILY/REFLECTION FOR PALM SUNDAY YEAR B
TOPIC: THE HOLY WEEK
BY: Fr. Mike Lagrimas
Gospel: Mk 14:1 – 15:47 (The Passion of Our Lord)
Message # 71: “The Way of the Cross”
- The Marian Message
a) The Blessed Mother reminds all her children, especially the priests, her beloved sons, that the only way they must follow is the way of the cross (letter b). There is no other way. It is the path that Jesus took in order to save mankind (letter c). It is also the same path “which your Mother has first traveled, together with her Son Jesus” (letter e).
b) The followers of Jesus must follow the way of the cross for it is the means to save sinners: “in order that men redeemed by my Son, but snatched from Him by Satan, may yet be saved today through the special intervention of this motherly Heart of mine” (letter d).
c) The way of the cross is also the only way for us to become “similar” to Jesus (letter h). It helps us become more like Jesus for we are able to deny ourselves in order to give ourselves to others.
d) The way of the cross is not attractive to many people. And still many are afraid of it and want to avoid it. But the Blessed Mother urges us to take it “without fear, because you will be led by the hand, by me, enheartened by my motherly tenderness” (letter f). We will never be alone as we take this path for “you will thus feel the presence of your Mother who will comfort and help you” (letter g).
e) Finally, taking the way of the cross will help us detach ourselves from everything is this world, making us ready to follow the will of the heavenly Father and join Jesus in His self- offering on the cross for the salvation of mankind (letter i).
- Understanding Holy Week
a) We are now preparing for the most important days in the life of the Church. This is the Holy Week Celebration. It starts on Sunday, commonly known as Palm Sunday because of the palm branches that people waved at Jesus to welcome Him as He entered the city of Jerusalem. But more accurately, this is called Passion Sunday. This day marks the start of the passion and sufferings of Jesus that will reach its climax at Calvary on Good Friday. The Gospel reading this Sunday is the Passion of our Lord. This helps us put ourselves in the mood of the Holy Week as we pray and meditate on the passion and death of the Lord.
b) Holy Week should be holy. These are days, which should be marked with holiness. We need to clarify our understanding of holiness. For many of us, we readily label persons who always pray and go to church as holy. But that is not true most of the time. The true concept of holiness has something to do with “wholeness”. This means that the person is not divided; there is no discrepancy between orthodoxy and praxis. He should be a living witness to true “orthopraxis”. Orthodoxy means genuine teaching, particularly Christian teachings. Praxis means practice or actual life of a person. In short, to be holy means to be whole – a solid combination of teaching and practice, that is, orthopraxis.
Holy Week is a special time to really examine our state of holiness or wholeness. So, we are encouraged to pray more assiduously, practice acts of penance and piety, examine our conscience, and be sorry for our sins, which destroy our wholeness as a person. Sins go against our true nature as God’s children. An inner conflict arises within us every time we are in sin. St. Paul expressed that: “Why is it that the good I want to do, I do not do; while the evil I do not want to do, I do!” May these days lead us to the sacrament of Reconciliation. This sacrament reconciles (re-establishes relationship; reunites) us with God, with others and with ourselves. We become whole once again. That is true holiness. Hopefully, this holiness attained during the Holy Week continues throughout the year and all through our lives. After all, holiness is not just an activity, nor it is a seasonal affair only, but a lifetime struggle and goal of every Christian.
c) For us Filipinos, we call these days “Mga Mahal na Araw”. The word “mahal” has two connotations. First, it means love, as in “Minamahal kita”. Second, it has something to do with great value or price: “mahalaga” or “mahal ang halaga”. So we say, for example, “Mahal ang singsing na ito”. These two meanings are vividly present in our concept of “Mga Mahal na Araw”. This is summed up in the words of Jesus: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son.” Minamahal ng tayo ng Diyos. Kaya upang tayo ay matubos, ibinigay Niya ang Kanyang Bugtong na Anak na si Hesus na nagbuhos ng Kanyang sariling dugo sa krus alang-alang sa ating lahat. Napakamahal (o walang katumbas na halaga –priceless) ang pantubos sa atin – mismong sariling buhay ng Anak ng Diyos – sapagkat labis ang pagmamahal Niya sa ating lahat. Kaya para sa ating mga Pilipinong Kristiyano, tunay na mahalaga ang mga araw na ito. That is the whole meaning of “Mga Mahal na Araw”. Natumbok nating mga Pinoy ang kahulugan ng Holy Week.
- Sacrifice and Atonement
a) Since the time of Adam and Eve, offering burnt sacrifices has been practiced. In fact, Cain was jealous of Abel’s offering of lambs as sacrifice. So he killed his brother. During the time of Abraham, the offering of sacrificial lambs became more common following the covenant of God with man. He was even tested by God to offer his son Isaac as sacrifice. With the coming of Moses, everything became institutionalized with the specific instructions from the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. Up to this time, the place was still not specified, provided there is the altar or table of sacrifice.
b) When the Temple was built, the venue of offering burnt sacrifices was finalized. In fact, Jesus was angry because the Temple became the venue for secular business. It became a place for changing money for Temple coins, and buying sacrificial lambs and pigeons. Everything was centralized in the Temple.
c) The sacrificial animal is a lamb – the choice is the one that is the most beautiful and unblemished. It is slaughtered on the altar, its blood sprinkled on the posts of the altar, and then it is burned. The smoke goes up to the heavens. The animal is sacrificed in atonement for the sins of mankind. All the other details on this are contained in the Law, which is the first five books of the Bible (Pentateuch or Torah).
d) John the Baptist called Jesus the “Lamb of God”. This is because Jesus replaces the lamb of sacrifice. Instead of a lamb, it is now Jesus who is slaughtered on the altar of the cross as sacrifice to atone for our sins. It is something similar to a ransom situation. We were in the clutches of the enemy due to our sins. God redeemed us and restored our freedom, not by any amount of gold or money, but by the precious blood of Jesus (See 1 Pet 1:18-20). He is the most beautiful and unblemished lamb, truly pleasing to God than any sacrifice man can offer. After the death of Jesus on the cross, there is no more need to offer sacrificial lambs to God.
e) The Mass or Eucharistic celebration is a sacrifice. The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross in Calvary, since He is eternal, has an eternal dimension. It was offered “once and for all”. It happened in a specific time in history, but it continues until now and for eternity. So every time we celebrate the Eucharist, it is the same sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, except that this is a bloodless sacrifice. To remind us all of this, there is always the cross standing on the altar or beside it or hanging at the wall of the sanctuary. For us who were not there on Calvary, the Mass “makes present” to us that one eternal sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. On the altar, the priest, acting “in the person of Christ”, leads the people in offering Jesus as our sacrifice to the Heavenly Father so that we may receive forgiveness for our sins and attain eternal salvation. Jesus is the victim being offered as sacrifice, and at the same time He is the priest offering this sacrifice to the Father. The Heavenly Father cannot reject this offering because it is Jesus Himself being offered as the most pleasing sacrifice for our sakes.
- The Passion and Death of Jesus
a) Jesus was sentenced to death. Obviously this is according to the plan of the Father for the salvation of mankind. This is in fulfillment of Scriptures. Yet it is also important to mention that He is a victim of worldly politics. There were 3 powers at play during this time. Palestine was then under the Roman Empire. The Emperor was Tiberius Caesar, represented in Palestine by Pontius Pilate, a ruthless and greedy prefect (governor) of Judea who had little regard for the Jewish people and their religious customs. The king of Judea was Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great. The religious leader of the Jewish people was the High Priest Caiphas, the son-in-law of the former High Priest Annas (cf. Mt 3:1-2). Pontius Pilate and King Herod were enemies. But when Jesus was sent by Pilate to Herod, the two became friends (cf Lk 23:12).
b) The whole issue against Jesus started with the religious leaders, those who compose the ruling body of the Jews, the Sanhedrin (Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, priests and elders) under the leadership of the High Priest. They were afraid that with the increasing popularity of Jesus, the Jewish people could get united, and this will threaten the Romans who might come in and destroy the whole nation. (This dreadful scenario eventually took place in 70AD, when Jerusalem was ransacked by the Romans and the Temple was totally destroyed). This was the justification put forward by Caiphas for putting Jesus to death (cf Jn 11:45-51). But in reality, they were jealous of Jesus and afraid that they might lose their power over the Jewish people. When Jesus was brought to Pilate, he (Pilate) could not decide because the issue was religious. Instead, he sent Jesus to King Herod, who later on sent Jesus back to him. Pilate then let the Jews decide: the release of Barrabbas and the crucifixion of Jesus. Then he washed his hands. Why crucifixion? Did Jesus commit any capital offense? That was the question of Pilate to the accusers of Jesus. He was planning to have Him flogged, and then release Him afterwards. But their answer made Pilate shiver: they wanted the death sentence for Jesus because he called Himself Son of God (Jn 19:7) and was making himself king – a direct offense against the Emperor (Jn 19:12). If Pilate releases Jesus, it would be an act of treason against the Emperor.
c) It must be made clear that the death of Jesus was the result of the interplay of the following factors: 1. the jealousy and fear of the religious leaders; 2. the indecisiveness of Pilate due to fear that he will be reported to the Roman Emperor (cf Jn 19:12 – “if you release him, you are not the friend of Caesar!”); 3. the insistence of the angry crowd who were instigated by the religious leaders (this was “People Power” without God). It must be noted also that not all Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus, but only the religious leaders and the angry crowd whom they brainwashed.
d) The Crucifixion is the cruelest death penalty. It is not just meant to kill the person but also intended to strip him of his human dignity. First, he is whipped with cords that have sharp metals at the end of each cord. They practically tear away the skin and flesh. Then he is clothed with a robe and it sticks to the fresh wounds. (Jesus has a bonus: since He claimed He was a king, He was crowned with thorns.) Afterwards, the condemned man is made to carry the cross to the place of crucifixion. The image on the Shroud of Turin reveals that Jesus had wounds on both shoulders, and his nose broken, indicating that he did not carry the whole cross but only the horizontal beam. The vertical beam stays in place on the hill. In order for him not to die prematurely, the soldiers picked somebody from the crowd to carry the cross for him. Upon reaching the place, he is violently stripped of the robe, reopening the painful wounds. He is left with no piece of clothing on. Then he is made to lie down on the cross and the nails are driven to his hands and feet. The nails are huge, not rounded but four-cornered, and measure 6 to 8 inches. To hold fast the man on the cross, the nails must be driven in between the two bones of the wrists. Then the cross is raised up for everybody to see: an image not far from that of an animal, totally devoid of power and any semblance of dignity and honor.
The condemned man dies of two causes: loss of blood and asphyxiation (loss of breath). The cross has a piece of wood at the bottom on which the criminal can put his feet and push upwards to gasp for air. When it takes long for him to die, his legs are broken so that he cannot anymore push upwards, and he soon dies of asphyxiation.
In the case of Jesus, he died rather quickly, so his feet were not broken, in fulfillment of Scriptures. Instead, his side was pierced with a lance to make sure he is dead, and blood and water gushed forth from it. According to the Blessed Mother, His wounds are our safe refuge from sin and evil (Msg # 569, letter f), and the fountain of living water, which washes our sins and gives us eternal life (letter h). The crucifixion is always done on an elevated portion of the town (a hill or promontory) so that it will be readily seen by passersby. The reason is obvious: to instill fear among the people so that they will not follow suit. The body of Jesus had to be brought down as soon as possible because it was on a Friday, and Sabbath was just a couple of hours away. His burial place was a tomb borrowed from a rich Jew, Joseph of Arimathea.
e) It is always important to reflect on the sufferings of Jesus. Doing the Stations of the Cross should be on a regular basis, not only during Lent. The lessons of the Passion and Death of Jesus are priceless and timeless: 1] reminder of our sinfulness; 2] reminder for us to remain always humble; 3] need for God’s mercy and pardon; 4] God’s self-sacrificing love for us; 5] Jesus is with us in our sufferings; 6] Jesus knows and understands our own sufferings and problems; 7] perseverance in doing God’s will despite trials and persecutions; 8] patience in bearing our daily crosses; 9] there is no way to salvation but the way of the cross; 10] death as the passage to eternal life; 11] final victory with Jesus. These are the reasons why we use the cross as our mark as Christians. It is the sign of our salvation and the proof of God’s boundless love for us.
Good Friday is Day of Fasting and Abstinence.
Make sure to join in the celebrations of the most important days of the year, the Triduum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday (esp. Easter Vigil on Saturday night).
Holy Saturday is the day of Mama Mary. Have a special Marian devotional activity on this day. It is not yet the day to go back to the mall and have fun – the Lord is still buried, and it is Mama Mary who remains standing in behalf of the Church.
- Closing Song:
Hosea (or Lord, Have Mercy)
GUIDE QUESTIONS FOR SHARING IN THE B.E.C.
1. Ano ang iyong mga gagawin sa Semana Santa upang ito ay maging makabuluhan at makahulugan?
2. Ano ang mga gawain sa Semana Santa na ginagawa ng iba na hindi naman dapat?
3. Para sa iyo, alin ang mas mahalaga: ang Christmas o ang Easter?